Anyone watching television or engaged in community conversations in recent months knows that our communities are entering into another period of time punctuated by values. Some people are talking about life, liberty and happiness. Others of us are focused on equality versus freedom (which are two values that are somewhat mutually exclusive). Perhaps, this elevated values debate is because our country is heading into a divisive Presidential election year. Or maybe it is because big policy debates are underway about LGBTQ and gun rights issues. Regardless, all of this talk has me thinking about the role of values and your non-profit organization’s resource development program.
Whenever I facilitate a strategic planning process for a client, regardless of which planning model I use, the process typically starts off with assessment of the current state and quickly rolls into facilitated discussions about mission, vision and organizational values. I always find it interesting that board volunteers find it easy to talk about mission and vision, but they generally seem to struggle with the values piece.
I suppose this shouldn’t surprise any of us. After all, values discussions can be emotional. Consider the following famous expressions about values:
- “Give me liberty or give me death!” ~Patrick Henry
- “Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.” ~Albert Einstein
- “Only men would think of cutting themselves to determine who the packleader is. Idiots.” ~Christopher Paolini
So, a values discussion can be emotional. Got it! And then a planning facilitator like me comes along and tells your organization it is important to come up with a list of “shared values.” I guess when I look at it from this perspective, it totally makes sense that people want to punt on this exercise.
Regardless of how difficult this might be, it is still important.
Why? Well, I think Roy Disney probably put it best when he said:
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
All of this gets me thinking about the countless discussions I’ve been a part of throughout the years with non-profit staff, boards and fundraising volunteers where difficult fundraising decisions were being made. The following are just a few examples:
- Should a gift from Big Tobacco be accepted when the organization runs anti-smoking and healthy life skills programming with its youth clients?
- Should a named gifts contract be signed with a donor who wants to put a Bible quote on the outside of the building when the organization is secular and committed to serving everyone in the community?
- Should a pledge be booked to one campaign versus another fundraising activity when a donor is clear about the benefits they desire and fuzzy about their intent; all of which is juxtaposed against staff wishing to achieve the goals laid out in their individual performance plans?
Of course, the easy answer is always . . . “What do your organizational policies say about this issue?”
However, weren’t those policies shaped and developed in a crucible of shared organizational values? I hope so.
Moreover, how many times have you dusted off those policy binders only to find they don’t speak clearly or directly to your issue? When this happens, then you’re right back where you started . . . stuck and left with your organization’s shared values.
There seem to be a number of different schools of thought on the question of fundraising values.
- Some people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values (hopefully found in your strategic planning document)
- Other people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values, but it should also have a set of supplemental values focused specifically on the unique activities stemming from resource development activities
- Still others believe that fundraising staff come with a set of values that bind them together as a profession
The Association of Fundraising Professionals subscribe to the third school of thought and have this to say about values:
“An ethical fundraiser aspires to: Observe and adhere to the AFP Code and all relevant laws and regulations; Build personal confidence and public support by being trustworthy in all circumstances; Practice honesty in relationships; Be accountable for professional, organizational and public behavior; Be transparent and forthcoming in all dealings; and, Be courageous in serving the public trust.”
To be honest, I’ve never operated under any one of these schools of thought. I guess my career has been guided and shaped by a hybrid (aka mishmash) of these ideas.
I’ve always taken the AFP ethics/values statement to heart, embraced my organization’s set of shared values, and superimposed my own set of individual values. As an Eagle Scout, my individual values have always been rooted in the 12-points of the Scout Law (e.g. trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent).
However, after some thoughtful consideration, I’m left worried that this approach could result in conflict. After all, what happens when an organizational value is in conflict with an individual value?
My best advice to those of you who care about values and the impact these potential conflicts might have on your organization is as follows:
- Invest time in developing your organization’s list of shared values
- Incorporate these values into your various systems (e.g. recognition, compensation, recruitment, etc)
- Integrate these shared values into your supplemental planning documents (e.g. resource development plan, baord development plan, marketing plan, individual performance plans, etc)
- Start every policy development exercise with a discussion about values
- Find a way to talk about your organization’s shared values in every board meeting (e.g. generative discussions, CEO report, committee reports, etc)
- Most importantly, build an organizational culture where it is safe for people to talk about their values in the context of shared organizational values (keeping in mind that your board is in a constant state of flux with volunteers coming and going)
To those of you who don’t care about this topic, I encourage you to turn on your television and watch some of the news coverage focused on what’s happening in Congress in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. If you don’t want your non-profit board room to look like that, then I suggest you start caring about the power of values.
Has your organization had to deal with a difficult decision recently? Did values play a role in fueling the conflict or solving the problem? If so, please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
For the last few weeks, I’ve found myself in a number of non-profit boardrooms talking to board volunteers about a variety of difficult subjects. These difficult conversations covered the following areas uncomfortable areas: staff reduction, re-organization, service reduction, radical revenue enhancement, board transformation, and so on. In each instance, it felt like a “soul-searching” discussion . . . very big and very weighty. I found myself wishing for a magic pill that I could dispense that would make their path forward a little less difficult.
As I poured my morning cup of coffee and wondered what I should blog about today, my mind wandered back to this same question, but this time it wasn’t a “magic pill” for which my sleepy head wished and dreamed. This time is was a tool that I could hand them. Something like a compass?!?! And then it came to me like a bolt of lightning.
A year ago, I wrote a post titled “Does your non-profit have a soul?” It was all about the importance of engaging your board, staff, clients, donors, volunteers and stakeholders in a “shared values” exercise. One of the quotes in that post that jumped back out at me this morning after my revelation at the coffee pot was from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner who stated the following in their book “The Leadership Challenge“:
“Shared values make an enormous difference to organizational and personal vitality. Research confirms that firms with strong corporate culture based on a foundation of shared values outperform other firms by a huge margin. Their revenue grew 4-times fast; their rate of job creation was 7-times higher; their stock price grew 12-times faster; and their profit performance was 750-percent higher.”
So, one organizations might find some comfort in their shared values of:
While exercising these values when talking about difficult subject matter won’t make those issues disappear, it will likely bring clarity to the boardroom and help people relate better to each other. Right?
Another one of the organizations I am thinking of has the following values posted on the walls around their facility:
I close my eyes and imagine a boardroom discussion focused on questions such as “Where are we going to raise more money next year?” and “What short-term cuts can/should we make to balance the budget?” Those discussions look different when I overlay their values on those conversations. Right?
‘Tis the season for giving and charity. It is also that time of the year when non-profit boards struggle with big, weighty issues like budget and revenue strategies for next year. My best advice to all non-profit boards is to take another peek under the tree and unwrap that tiny present you placed there years ago when you went through your strategic planning process.
Contained in that small package is your agency’s shared values. Use them as they were intended . . . as a tool to frame discussions and a backdrop to make tough decisions.
It might be the best gift that you’ve given yourself in a very long time.
What are your organization’s shared values? How do you use them? Can you recall an instance when your values helped with a difficult discussion or decision? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC